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Alyxia spicata R. Br. 1810
pronounced: al-IKS-ee-uh spi-KAH-tuh
(Apocynaceae – the oleander family)
common name: Chain Fruit
This is a genus consisting of shrubby, climbing, or scrambling plants, occurring in China, the Himalayas, southeast Asia, Australia, New Caledonia and the Pacific Islands.
There are 14 members of the genus found in Australia. The leaves may be opposite, or in whorls of 3 to 7. There are colleters present in the leaf axils. The inflorescence is axillary or terminal with solitary flowers or simple cymes; the flowers have 5 each of sepals and petals, and a slender tube that expands abruptly. The fruit is a pair of drupes, originating from each flower.
Alyxia buxifolia is known as Dysentery Bush, and is used in herbal medicine. The Australian stonemason Albert Aspinall (1839 – 1903) fell ill while building the Cape Green Lighthouse. He found that drinking a herbal tea made from an infusion of the leaves of this plant helped his medical condition, and applied for and secured the patent for this herbal tea. Much good it did him – he committed suicide in 1903! Another member of the genus, Alyxia oliviformis, endemic to the Hawaiian Islands and known there as maile, has sweet-smelling leaves and is much used for making leis; it was once reserved for the nobility, but nowadays anyone is allowed to use it: it is very popular for weddings.
Alyxia spicata occurs across the north end of Australia, and also in New Guinea. It grows in rainforest, monsoon forest, beach forest and vine thickets, up to an altitude of about 1,000 m. It can grow as a vine, but more usually flowers and fruits as a shrub, particularly in exposed situations. Stems of the vine have been recorded as large as 3 cm. in diameter. The lenticels are often arranged in horizontal lines; the exudate is not very copious, and the outer blaze is quite hard and granular. The twigs and petioles also produce a milky exudate, and the twigs are marked by light brown elongated lenticels. The leaves are usually in whorls of 3 or 4; their blades vary in size, generally from 6.5 – 8 cm by 2 – 3 cm., and the venation can be difficult to discern. The petioles are usually a little under a centimetre long.
The flowers are tiny, only 3 – 4 mm in diameter; the calyx is hairy, the lobes up to 2 mm long. The corolla tube is usually orange, about 3 mm long, glabrous on the outer surface, but pubescent below the stamens on the inner surface, the lobes usually cream, and less than 2 mm in length; the stamens are inserted in the corolla tube.
The fruits are black when ripe, but yellow or orange before they mature; they are often in a chain like a string of beads, each bead a little over a centimetre in length and about a centimetre in width; the endosperm is orange.
There is a very similar plant, Alyxia grandis, whose fruits do not turn black at maturity, but remain orange. As far as I can discover, it is not found on Magnetic Island.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken on The Forts track 2010 and in Horseshoe Bay 2014
Page last updated 13th July 2018